Review: February Wind by Mony Kann Darung @SeaShorts

The soft focus lensing, the pastel-hued finishing that evokes the sweetness of a love ballad, the eye candy of a cast that look like YouTube idols or influencers, make this film a departure from the more heavy-going, socio-politically conscious films that have come out of Cambodia. February Wind, by Mony Kann Darung, gives a glimpse of a fully transitioned Cambodia, a gaze at popular culture fitted into the discipline of film. 

The short film is about a couple desperately holding to their romance across distance. Sai is a waiter in a restaurant while Marie is his girlfriend who has left to study abroad. They maintain their relationship through teary phone calls and the occasional daydreaming about escaping to some with mountains and Sakura flowers (I didn't know Sakuras could grow in Cambodia!?) What makes this fateful love story more poignant is director Darung's use of visual dramatic irony. Marie physically appears next to Sai in some scenes when they are talking but disappears the next moment, rubbing salt to Sai's emotional burns. 

The film is unmistakably styled like teenage idol TV drama. There is Marie, whose sweet, dreamy looks keeps you in the mood for Korean bingsu. There is also the highly-gentrified café that looks like a scene out of Taiwanese film Café.Waiting.Love. Little surprise when director Darung reveals that the film is inspired by a song from Sai, a real music artist who plays the lead, also named Sai, in the film. Darung previously collaborated with him and the female and because he found a particular song beautiful, they started to discuss if they could make a narrative short based on the song. February Wind is the outcome of the discussion. 

Referring the film's ambiguity in having the Marie appear next to Sai when they are communicating on a long distance call, Darung commented, "The choice of characters interaction is intended to provoke the feeling of hope and wishful thinking, that it was never really a reality. It also served as a plot device for the final scene where visually they kiss giving a moment of closure, yet the audience would knows better that it's not a reality. It's all in his imagination."

"I made this film with an intention to give audiences a break from Cambodia's dark history that many films tend to deal with. I believe that there are many stories left from Cambodian history to tell, but there are also many other stories that many Cambodian filmmakers chose to ignore. I made this film partly to show that modern Cambodia has many more stories waiting to be told and we have the technical capacity to make genre films, "commented Darung on the choice of making something of a total departure from the typical history-laden Cambodian cinema.

On whether romance genres are popular in Cambodia, Darung mentioned that romances are hard to come by, though there is rising demand. Comedy and horror tend to be more popular, with some action films also rising in popularity. 

Curious about the state of independent filmmaking in Cambodia, I asked Darung what the main challenges of filmmaking are in Cambodia. 

He said, "Like any other country, the main challenge for films is getting funded. There is no state funds for access, no investment pool from investors. The film community here is a closed society, where one needs to build up their name to a certain level in order to get in. Therefore, many young filmmakers are struggling to find their place and many are discouraged to make films, as they switch to catch the raise of Youtube/vlog fame and fortune."

"Most of art-house filmmakers look abroad to get funds from labs and such, as others look to private investors whom they know personally. For short filmmakers, we usually goes to a small number of companies in the entertainment industry for funds, which usually requires an exchange for logo and product placements. Otherwise, many just choose to funds their own films. Also, Cambodia still lacks a film school, so young filmmakers tend to learn by themselves or from the seniors who also mostly didn't go to school. Although, you don't have to go to school to be a filmmaker, the current generations lacks the basics and the know-how especially in directing, and in story writing."

Interview by Jeremy Sing

February Wind was screened under S-Express at the 2019 SeaShorts Film Festival and also won Best Short Film the 2018 Chaktomuk Short Film Festival.
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